Women still rare among Canada's top executives: report

Women remain a rarity in the top echelons of corporate Canada.

A study from executive search firm Rosenzweig & Co. shows just four of the chief executive positions at Canada's 100 biggest public companies are female. Just 7.4% of the more than 500 senior executives at these companies are female, the study also concludes.

Slight progress seems to have been made in recent years. The percentage of top-level executives that are women has risen from 6.9 since the same study was done last year, and it was just 4.6% in the inaugural report in 2006.

"The pace of change is disheartening," said Michelle Morin, a partner at Rosenzweig, said in a statement. "Over the last six years we've been studying this issue, and very little has improved for talented women executives."

One women, Nancy Southern occupies two of the four top CEO positions held by women - she leads both the ATCO Group and affiliated company Canadian Utilities Ltd.  The other women CEOs noted in this report were Kathy Bardswick of the Co-operators Group Ltd. and Sophie Brochu of Gaz Metro Ltd. Partnership.

In 2006, Southern, as the leader of these two companies, was the only woman among CEOs at Canada's biggest companies.

"We don't think that any type of gender bias is institutionalized. We don't even think it's necessarily conscious," said Alan Zelnicker, another partner at Rosenzweig. "People tend to hire like-minded or similar people.... So until the power structure changes, you're going to have men tending to hire more men."

 Bardswick, one of the few women CEOs this study found, said another factor is women are not vying for these positions as much as men.

 "[Women] are not as aggressive in putting ourselves out there," she said. "We don't fight hard enough for what we think we need.... Females need to be more aggressive about putting their capacity and interests forward, and not back off as easily as they do."

While she's aware of many women hitting the infamous "glass ceiling" in there career pursuits,  Bardswick said she's never felt discriminated against because of her sex.

Moral arguments aside, Mr. Zelnicker said it's in companies' best interests to include more women and members of various demographic groups among their key decision-makers.